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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

Inside an international network of teenage neo-Nazi extremists

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Nick Robins Early, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause report in Insider:

Last year, a 20-year-old named Christian Michael Mackey arrived at the Phillips 66 gas station in Grand Prairie, Texas, hoping to sell his AM-15 rifle to make some quick cash. He’d said he wanted to buy a more powerful gun, something that could stop what he called a “hoard of you know what.”

Mackey told an online group chat he’d started looking at Nazi websites at around 15-years-old, when he began spending hours on white nationalist message boards and talking to other extremists on Instagram and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Five years later, he was active in a network of violent neo-Nazi groups that organized and communicated through online group chats. He described himself as a “radical Jew slayer.”

When Mackey met his buyer in the gas-station parking lot in January 2021, he didn’t know he had walked into a sting. The woman purchasing his rifle was a paid FBI source with numerous felonies, and Mackey was arrested as soon as the gun changed hands. At his detention hearing a month later, an FBI agent said authorities had found a pipe bomb in Mackey’s parents’ house, where he lived.

Mackey’s stepfather told local news soon after the arrest that his stepson had been radicalized online, and footage showed him ripping up a copy of “Mein Kampf” in Mackey’s bedroom. FBI records and court documents indicated that Mackey had posted more than 2,400 messages in one neo-Nazi Instagram group chat alone, and had told another user “I’m just trying to live long enough to die attacking.”

Stories like this have increasingly played out across the US and around the world in recent years — young people, overwhelmingly white and male, who have become involved in a global network of neo-Nazi extremist groups that plot mass violence online.

Canadian authorities earlier this year arrested a 19-year-old on terrorism charges after they say he tried to join a neo-Nazi group similar to the ones Mackey was involved in. In April, a 15-year-old in Denmark was charged with recruiting for a neo-Nazi organization banned in the country. A 16-year-old became the UK’s youngest terrorism offender after joining that same group, where he researched terror manuals and discussed how to make explosives. Others made it further along in their plots, like a 21-year-old who planted a bomb outside the Western Union office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

As far-right extremism has grown over the past decade, so too has the notoriety of various groups and their leaders. Far-right gangs such as the Proud Boys as well as suit-and-tie-wearing white nationalists like Richard Spencer regularly make headlines. But there are also lesser-known groups with more directly violent aims that follow an ideology called accelerationism — the belief that carrying out bombings, mass shootings, and other attacks is necessary to hasten the collapse of society and allow a white ethnostate to rise in its place.

Countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have designated accelerationist groups such as Atomwaffen Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base as terrorist organizations. Atomwaffen, which is now largely defunct, was linked to at least five murders in the US alone. The Base’s leader was sentenced in May to four years in prison after plotting to kill minorities and instigate a race war.

Experts trace the origins of groups like these to a neo-Nazi website called Iron March that went offline in 2017, and which notoriously helped extremists from many countries forge international connections and spread accelerationist propaganda.

The ideology has been linked to the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, where a white nationalist killed 51 people at two mosques while livestreaming the attack online, and a shooting earlier this year at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY where 10 people were killed.

As part of a joint investigation that Insider undertook with Welt Am Sonntag and Politico, reporters gained access to two dozen internal chat groups linked to a broader network of neo-Nazi accelerationists. Comprising 98,000 messages from about 900 users, the data includes photos, videos, text, and voice messages.

Various participants in the groups have been charged with a range of crimes related to plots to bomb or burn down synagogues and gay bars, attack anti-fascist activists, and illegally traffic firearms. In chat logs that reporters reviewed, members showed off homemade explosives, encouraged one another to kill minorities, and discussed how to get access to weapons.

The scores of messages and propaganda in these chats provide a glimpse into one of the most dangerous corners of modern far-right extremism. It is increasingly international, intent on radicalizing young people, and committed to using violence to further its fascist ideology.

Rather than a centralized group, it is a loosely connected network that rises and falls as its members are killed or arrested — but never seems to entirely go away. And unlike extremist groups that want to integrate their beliefs into political parties or run for local office, the aim of accelerationist groups like these is primarily to create violent chaos. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 4:57 pm

“The Wrath to Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells,” by Sarah Churchill

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Alex von Tunzelmann reviews Sarah Churchill’s book The Wrath to Come in Literary Review:

The night before Gone with the Wind’s Atlanta premiere in 1939, there was a ball at a plantation. Dressed as slaves, the children of the black Ebenezer Baptist Church choir performed for an all-white audience. They sang ‘There’s Plenty of Good Room in Heaven’; the actress playing Belle Watling, Rhett Butler’s tart with a heart, wept. The scene is already striking: a painfully literal example of the mythologising of the South for white consumption, redefining slavery as harmless and the slaves themselves as grateful. Yet Sarah Churchwell finds a jaw-dropping detail: ‘One of the little Black children dressed as a slave and bringing a sentimental tear to white America’s eye was a ten-year-old boy named Martin Luther King, Jr, who would be dead in thirty years for daring to dream of racial equality in America.’

Churchwell has written about American mythology before, notably in Behold America: A History of America First and the American Dream, as well as in works on Marilyn Monroe and The Great Gatsby. This time it feels like she has hit the motherlode: ‘The heart of the [American] myth, as well as its mind and its nervous system, most of its arguments and beliefs, its loves and hates, its lies and confusions and defence mechanisms and wish fulfilments, are all captured (for the most part inadvertently) in America’s most famous epic romance.’ For Churchwell, ‘Gone with the Wind provides a kind of skeleton key, unlocking America’s illusions about itself.’

This is a bold claim – but Gone with the Wind was, and remains, a phenomenon like no other. Published in June 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s novel sold a million copies before the end of that year, won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and became the bestselling American novel of all time. Even now, it shifts 300,000 copies annually. In 1939, a film version was released, starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Adjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing film of all time, ahead of Avatar and Titanic. In 2020, when the South Korean film Parasite – a biting satire on capitalism – won the Academy Award for Best Picture, President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure: ‘What the hell was that all about?’ he asked a rally in Colorado. ‘Can we get like Gone with the Wind back please?’ As usual, his audience understood exactly what he meant.

If the idea that one book and film can be the skeleton key to a whole culture seems simplistic, Churchwell swiftly begins to pile up startling evidence in short, pithy chapters. Race, gender, the Lost Cause, the American Dream, blood-and-soil fascism, the prison-industrial complex, a Trumpist mob storming the Capitol in 2021: it’s all here, and it’s all bound up with the themes of Gone with the Wind. Mythmaking is not just the building of fantasies but also the erasure of truth. The genocide of native peoples, for instance, is not in the book or film, but it was taking place at just the time that Gerald O’Hara would have been acquiring land in Georgia: ‘Scarlett’s beloved Tara is built upon land that was stolen from indigenous Americans a mere decade before her birth.’ Churchwell cuts through these thorny subjects with a propulsive assurance. Her writing is an extraordinary blend of wit, intellectual agility and forcefulness: it’s like being swept along by an extremely smart bulldozer.

Churchwell doesn’t flinch from the horrors that Gone with the Wind belies. The book and film propagate the Lost Cause myth, portraying the South as a place of chivalry, slavery as benevolent and the members of the Ku Klux Klan as honourable men stepping up as the world around them collapses. Churchwell shows us how these myths were constructed from the end of the Civil War onwards, and congealed seventy years later into Gone with the Wind. The reality of the reassertion of white supremacy during and after Reconstruction was, as Churchwell shows, horrific: there is some deeply upsetting material here on the terrorisation of both black people and those whites who did not comply with supremacist social codes. Lynchings were advertised in advance in local newspapers, ‘just as a fun fair or circus might have been’. A typical headline from 1905: ‘Will Burn Negro: Officers Will Probably Not Interfere in Texas’. Eight people were lynched in the year of Gone with the Wind’s publication.

‘Most defences of Gone with the Wind hold that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 July 2022 at 9:52 am

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country

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I came across the Washington Post interview below (gift link, no paywall) via a Facebook post by Rebecca Solnit, who extracted some of the article:

The CIA also has a manual on insurgency. You can Google it and find it online.

[See “Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency” (PDF), which seems to be the manual she has in mind. See also:  “Estimating State Instability” (PDF). See also this page on the Wilson Center website: “Political Instability Task Force: New Findings” (2004) – LG]

Most of it is not redacted. And it’s absolutely fascinating to read. It’s not a big manual. And it was written, I’m sure, to help the U.S. government identify very, very early stages of insurgency. So if something’s happening in the Philippines, or something’s happening in Indonesia. You know, what are signs that we should be looking out for?

And the manual talks about three stages. And the first stage is . . .

The Washinton Post interview is from March 8, 2022, and was done by KK Ottesen (and again: that’s a gift link). The quoted passage above is taken from the interview, which begins:

Barbara F. Walter, 57, is a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and the author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” which was released in January. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

Having studied civil wars all over the world, and the conditions that give rise to them, you argue in your book, somewhat chillingly, that the United States is coming dangerously close to those conditions. Can you explain that?

So we actually know a lot about civil wars — how they start, how long they last, why they’re so hard to resolve, how you end them. And we know a lot because since 1946, there have been over 200 major armed conflicts. And for the last 30 years, people have been collecting a lot of data, analyzing the data, looking at patterns. I’ve been one of those people.

We went from thinking, even as late as the 1980s, that every one of these was unique. And the way people studied it is they would be a Somalia expert, a Yugoslavia expert, a Tajikistan expert. And everybody thought their case was unique and that you could draw no parallels. Then methods and computers got better, and people like me came and could collect data and analyze it. And what we saw is that there are lots of patterns at the macro level.

In 1994, the U.S. government put together this Political Instability Task Force. They were interested in trying to predict what countries around the world were going to become unstable, potentially fall apart, experience political violence and civil war.

Was that out of the State Department?

That was done through the CIA. And the task force was a mix of academics, experts on conflict, and data analysts. And basically what they wanted was: In all of your research, tell us what you think seems to be important. What should we be considering when we’re thinking about the lead-up to civil wars?

Originally the model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy. There’s this nonprofit based in Virginia called the Center for Systemic Peace. And every year it measures all sorts of things related to the quality of the governments around the world. How autocratic or how democratic a country is. And it has this scale that goes from negative 10 to positive 10. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic. This, of course, is where you want to be. This would be Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years. It’s no longer a positive 10. And then it has this middle zone between positive 5 and negative 5, which was you had features of both. If you’re a positive 5, you have more democratic features, but definitely have a few authoritarian elements. And, of course, if you’re negative 5, you have more authoritarian features and a few democratic elements. The U.S. was briefly downgraded to a 5 and is now an 8.

And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker. They’re transitioning to either actually becoming more democratic, and so some of the authoritarian features are loosening up. The military is giving up control. And so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate, people are unhappy with these governments. There’s infighting. There’s jockeying for power. And so they’re weak in their own ways. Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity. The quintessential example of this is what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

So for you, personally, what was the moment the ideas began to connect, and you thought: Wait a minute, I see these patterns in my country right now?

My dad is from Germany. He was born in 1932 and lived through the war there, and he emigrated here in 1958. He had been a Republican his whole life, you know; we had the Reagan calendar in the kitchen every year.

And starting in early 2016, I would go home to visit, and my dad — he doesn’t agitate easily, but he was so agitated. All he wanted to do was talk about Trump and what he was seeing happening. He was really nervous. It was almost visceral — like, he was reliving the past. Every time I’d go home, he was just, like, “Please tell me Trump’s not going to win.” And I would tell him, “Dad, Trump is not going to win.” And he’s just, like, “I don’t believe you; I saw this once before. And I’m seeing it again, and the Republicans, they’re just falling in lockstep behind him.” He was so nervous.

I remember saying: “Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a Trump come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then Trump won. We would have these conversations where my dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, I’m seeing it. I’m seeing it all again here. And that’s really what shook me out of my complacency, that here was this man who is very well educated and astute, and he was shaking with fear. And I was like, Am I being naive to think that we’re different?

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

So I gave a talk at UCSD about this — and it was a complete bomb. Not . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 9:11 pm

How right-wing Republicans will take over the US in 2024

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The following scenario seems not at all unlikely, given what we have seen in the past few years.

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Click the link and read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2022 at 9:15 pm

The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy

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Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert, and Hiba Yazbek have a compelling (and chilling) report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

The journalists thought they were safe.

Several blocks away, a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian men had just stopped. Hoping to interview witnesses, the group of reporters headed down the street toward an Israeli military convoy. Among them was Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American television correspondent.

Suddenly, six bullets flew toward them, and they ran for cover. Ms. Abu Akleh crouched next to a carob tree.

Seven more shots rang out.

“Is anyone injured?” a bystander, Sleem Awad, yelled, before seeing Ms. Abu Akleh slumped facedown on the ground. “Shireen! Shireen!” he shouted, having recognized the well-known journalist. “Oh man, Shireen!”

Palestinian officials said Ms. Abu Akleh was intentionally killed early on May 11 in the West Bank city of Jenin by an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials said a soldier might have shot her by mistake but also suggested that she might have been killed by a Palestinian gunman. The Israeli Army’s preliminary investigation concluded that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire.”

A monthlong investigation by The New York Times found that the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.

The evidence reviewed by The Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman.

The Times investigation also showed that 16 shots were fired from the location of the Israeli convoy, as opposed to Israeli claims that the soldier had fired five bullets in the journalists’ direction. The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally. The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.

A Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera, Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name in the Middle East. She had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for more than two decades. Now, she was the latest casualty.

Her killing drew global outrage, and for Palestinians it came to embody the dangers and frustrations of living under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted.

Ms. Abu Akleh had come to Jenin that day to cover Israel’s ongoing military raids on the city.

In the weeks leading up to that day, a wave of Palestinian attacks had killed 19 Israelis and foreigners, and some of the attackers had come from the Jenin region. In response, the Israeli military launched a series of raids into Jenin, sometimes to make arrests, and the soldiers were often met with Palestinian gunfire.

As the sun was rising on May 11, another raid was kicking off.

At about 5 a.m.,  . . .

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall).

Written by Leisureguy

20 June 2022 at 6:58 pm

Why We Must Cultivate Imagination to Fight the Rise of Fascism

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Dave Troy (his website) is worth listening to. Here’s a recent article he published on Medium:

This week I was in the beautiful city of Brussels, Belgium meeting up with friends and colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. It was a great opportunity to reset, gain some wisdom, and also learn more about what’s going on in information warfare globally. I attended the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab 360/Open Summit event, which included a wide range of experts including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa.

I was able to synthesize an assessment of where things might go, in combination with my own views and research, and, well… it’s not pretty. But there are things we can do, and reasons to have hope. Here’s a rough overview of what we might expect:

  • Putin will weaponize food shortages, inflation, fuel prices, and refugee flows. As fuel prices rise, so will food prices. This will cause widespread starvation in Africa, which will launch a flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, similar to what happened in 2015 but at a larger scale. This will trigger all manner of xenophobia in Europe and help weaken resolve. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary are already wobbly with respect to Ukraine support, for a variety of historical reasons. (Remnants of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Italian north-south rivalries, and a longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom large, and just beneath the surface). Ukraine and Europe are also running out of ammunition, making the conflict entirely dependent on US supplies against Russia and China supplies.
  • It never was about NATO, and there is no off-ramp. Yesterday, Putin made a speech wherein he likened himself to Peter the Great, and suggested that Russia’s action in Ukraine was merely a case of Russia reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. He is a Tsarist, and aims to recapture or colonize any territory that suits his imagination.
  • The United States may descend into civil unrest, or revolution. Oil and gas cartels may push fuel prices as high as $10 per gallon in the US. This would clearly signify a new high-water mark and could usher in a wave of civil unrest. Biden will be blamed for this, even though fuel prices will rise globally, and it has nothing to do with him. Food prices will likewise go up dramatically, as there is little practical difference between food and fuel (both are energy). Banks are predicting that middle class Americans may have trouble paying for essentials like food and fuel, and are planning for ‘imminent’ and unprecedented civil unrest, according to a report obtained by The Byline Times. Given that this would help fulfill goals of the fascist international, we should expect that Republicans and their allies will be pushing this forward at every opportunity.
  • Ukraine war will become a years-long war of attrition. Putin will use chaos in Europe and the US to undermine support for Ukraine and continue to throw raw resources and personnel, despite lack of training, at wearing down the situation there. A low-yield nuclear strike against targets in Western Ukraine is a distinct possibility — perhaps Lviv, which would limit easterly fallout affecting Russia — and would have the effect of activating “anti-war” activists in Europe and the US. This “Fifth Column” could be very effective given this new demonstration of force (and lack of judgment) in eroding continued support for Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine falls, the Baltics, Poland, and Balkans will be the next targets. Russia can only be stopped if it is unequivocally defeated. If it is not, it will regroup (with its allies China and India) and resume information warfare then kinetic warfare against all its adjacent territories. The Baltics are very clearly in its sights already and will be attacked without question, unless stopped. Poland and much of the Balkan states are not far behind. While this may sound implausible because of how weak Russia seems right now, it is thinking in terms of the ~3 billion people represented by Russia, China, India, Brazil (et al) vs. the ~1 billion people represented by NATO. While that’s an apples to oranges comparison, the overall scales involved make the matching more even than it might seem on the surface.
  • China may become more aggressive as it faces internal threats. China faces a demographic bomb as its population ages. Its single child policy means an elderly population will soon be gone, and it will face a shrinking population. China’s GDP is heavily dependent (around 30%) on overhyped real-estate schemes, many of which will never be occupied. The conflict with Taiwan continues to simmer and will eventually come to a head, creating a strategic threat against global production of integrated circuit chips. China is beginning to become more aggressive with its information warfare, and starting to threaten Australia. The historic Kuomintang network which seems to be associated with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon is preparing itself as “shock troops” to take over when the CCP falls. While that may be fantasy, the situation definitely has elements of instability that should be closely monitored.
  • Russia is increasing its aggression towards Japan over the Kuril Islands. The islands in Northern Japan, an important fishing ground, have been contested since World War II. Russia is threatening Japan, suggesting that it will return the islands to their control if Tokyo distances itself from the United States and the West. So far, this play has not been working, but they are continuing to become ever more aggressive in pushing Japan in this direction. Aleksandr Dugin sees Japan as part of the Russian sphere of influence and wishes to drive Japan apart from Western influence.
  • We are dealing with a resurgence of individualism and propertarianism. Whether talking about “sovereign citizen” lunacy, or “sovereign individual” bitcoin fantasies, the propertarian legacy of slave ownership, or gold fetishists in Vienna longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, we are dealing with a resurgence of interest in hierarchy and its very close cousins, white supremacy and eugenics. The idea that money confers reproductive fitness is a recurring theme, even as it is nonsense, and we should be prepared, once again, to combat it.
  • In the end, this resolves to one key conflict: carbon fuels. Carbon fuel producers really don’t want to stop producing carbon fuel; they have massive, long term investments they wish to productively amortize over a decades or centuries. Pesky democracies that want to shut down the party now are ultimately a minor annoyance. Converting energy flows into influence — by purchasing politicians, organizations, and capturing government — is straightforward enough, and simply a matter of positioning the right marketing campaigns, politicians, and cults in service of the task. Influence is 20th century technology perfected by the marriage with 21st century finance and technology. And the kicker? The best way to capture a government is to eliminate it. Obviously, the need to address anthropogenic climate change is real, and is impeded by the capture or elimination of government.
  • Some have already decided that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2022 at 9:41 am

Abbott calls Texas school shooting a mental health issue but cut state spending for mental health

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 and 

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health” — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.

In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said during a news conference at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday.

His remarks came just a day after an outraged Connecticut senator called out lawmakers opposed to gun control who seek to blame mental illness for the most recent school shooting and others before it.

In rejecting suggestions that stronger gun control laws could have prevented the tragedy, Abbott conceded the slain 18-year-old suspect had no known mental health issues or criminal history but said, “Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge.”

His assertions drew rebukes from public health experts and scholars who study mass murderers, as well as from his Democratic gubernatorial rival Beto O’Rourke, who was ejected from the news conference after storming the stage and accusing the pro-gun Republican of “doing nothing” to stop gun violence.

“There is no evidence the shooter is mentally ill, just angry and hateful,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine. “While it is understandable that most people cannot fathom slaughtering small children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”

David Riedman, founder of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, said, “Overall, mass shooters are rational. They have a plan. It’s something that develops over months or years, and there’s a clear pathway to violence.”

The much bigger problem, they said, is Texas and many other states are awash in weapons.

“Texas has more guns per capita than any other state,” Post said. “After the tragic 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, the governor signed several bills to curb mass shootings; unfortunately, most of those bills involved arming the public to stop mass shooters.”

Post pointed out that police officers trained in active shootings were injured Tuesday. She and others said . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 1:33 pm

Religious faith as an antidote to gun violence

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Republican politicians are united in saying that gun restrictions will have no effect on gun violence. Michael A. Cohen writes in his Truth and Consequences column:

. . . “We have to harden these targets,” says Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick. Station armed guards at schools, says Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, an armed security guard was at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. There was an armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. He hid for cover as a mass shooter killed 17 students and teachers.

In the Dayton shooting I mentioned above, the gunman was shot dead by police just 32 seconds after he opened fire. By then, he had already killed nine people and wounded seventeen. Are we supposed to take solace in that he didn’t kill more?

Patrick also went on Fox News to declare that the scourge of gun violence results from declining religious faith and “you just cannot change character without changing a heart, and you can’t do that without turning to God.”

Cohen than provides two interesting charts. The first is from the Pew Research Center. The chart at the link is interactive and by hovering the mouse over a state you get more detailed information.

The second is from the Centers for Disease Control. The chart is for 2020 (most recent year available), and at the site you can select other years and also click a state to get more detailed information.

Cohen’s column is worth reading, but it is evident that Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick is full of shit. “Harden the targets”? Really. Armed police are clearly not enough. Is he suggesting a Special Forces squad assigned to each school?

And if the community is religious it need not fear gun violence? Look at the charts. 

Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick is some combination of ignorant, deceptive, stupid, and scared.

And, for what it’s worth, Republicans in the Senate killed a bill to combat domestic terrorism (gift link, no paywall). Apparently Senate Republicans support domestic terrorism. 

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 12:43 pm

“90% of all firearm deaths for children 0-14 years of age in high-income countries occur in the US.”

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That, of course, is because of a choice the US has made, to make gun ownership a higher priority than children’s lives. In other countries, when terrible gun massacres occur, laws are passed. Not in the US.

Source for that statistic.

From a column in the NY Times:

After the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland in 1996, in which a gunman killed 16 primary-school pupils and a teacher, the British government banned handguns. After the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia that same year, the Australian government introduced stringent gun laws, including a ban on most semiautomatic and automatic weapons as well as licensing and purchasing restrictions. After the Utoya massacre in Norway in 2011, the government banned semiautomatic firearms, persevering with the legislation despite years of opposition from a well-organized hunters’ lobby. After the Christchurch shootings in 2019, New Zealand’s government passed stringent new restrictions on gun ownership and announced a buyback program.

A list of the gun bills stalled in Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2022 at 7:28 pm

Comparing causes of deaths worldwide

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Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2022 at 11:52 am

The Unseen Scars of Those Who Kill via Remote Control

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It’s easy to imagine what the US would say about some nation attacking the US or a US ally in this way. Reading this raises the question “Is the US one of the baddies?”

Dave Phillips reports in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.

Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.

The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

Captain Larson tried to bury his doubts. At home in Las Vegas, he exuded a carefree confidence. He loved to go out dancing and was so strikingly handsome that he did side work as a model. He drove an electric-blue Corvette convertible and a tricked-out blue Jeep and had a beautiful new wife.

But tendrils of distress would occasionally poke up, in a comment before bed or a grim joke at the bar. Once, in 2017, his father pressed him about his work, and Captain Larson described a mission in which the customer told him to track and kill a suspected Al Qaeda member. Then, he said, the customer told him to use the Reaper’s high-definition camera to follow the man’s body to the cemetery and kill everyone who attended the funeral.

“He never really talked about what he did — he couldn’t,” said his father, Darold Larson. “But he would say things like that, and it made you know it was bothering him. He said he was being forced to do things that went against his moral compass.”

Drones were billed as a better way to wage war — a tool that could kill with precision from thousands of miles away, keep American service members safe and often get them home in time for dinner. The drone program started in 2001 as a small, tightly controlled operation hunting high-level terrorist targets. But during the past decade, as the battle against the Islamic State intensified and the Afghanistan war dragged on, the fleet grew larger, the targets more numerous and more commonplace. Over time, the rules meant to protect civilians broke down, recent investigations by The New York Times have shown, and the number of innocent people killed in America’s air wars grew to be far larger than the Pentagon would publicly admit.

Captain Larson’s story, woven together with those of other drone crew members, reveals an unseen toll on the other end of those remote-controlled strikes.

Drone crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.

Under unrelenting stress, several former crew members said, people broke down. Drinking and divorce became . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 3:05 pm

No-knock raids have led to fatalencounters and small drug seizures

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Nicole Dungca and Jenn Abelson report in the Washington Post (gift link; no paywall):

This story is part of our reporting for the new investigative podcast “Broken Doors.” Hosted by Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca, the six-part audio series examines how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level.

In Louisiana, it took a judge just a few clicks online to give West Baton Rouge Parish deputies the go-ahead to force their way into a motel room without knocking. Within 30 minutes, officers rushed in and fatally shot an unarmed Black man, seizing a little more than 22 grams of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and hydrocodone.

In St. Louis, a judge authorized police to break down the doors of three homes simultaneously without knocking. Officers killed a 63-year-old Black grandfather, and police said they found just over nine grams of heroin, marijuana, fentanyl and hydrocodone in the three homes combined.

In Houston, a judge approved scores of requests for no-knock warrants for officers who relied on unnamed informants. One raid led to a gun battle that left a White man and woman dead and four officers shot, and it failed to turn up the heroin police said they would find. The officer who requested the warrant later admitted he fabricated the confidential informant.

Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — one of the most intrusive and dangerous tactics available to law enforcement — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

But judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.

Criminal justice experts estimate that police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide, mostly in drug-related searches. But few agencies monitor their use, making the exact number unknown. None of the 50 state court systems or the District of Columbia reported tracking the use of no-knock warrants. And no federal or state government agencies keep tabs on the number of people killed or wounded in the raids.

“The whole system has devolved into a perfunctory bureaucracy that doesn’t take any care or due diligence for how it’s done,” said Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who has studied no-knock raids for more than three decades. “That wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except that we’re talking about a really extreme policing approach — breaking into people’s homes with a surprise entry with the possibility of finding evidence.”

[What to know about no-knock warrants]

The raids became a flash point two years ago when  . . .

Continue reading. (Gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2022 at 11:54 am

Germany intercepts Russian conversations on indiscriminate killings in Ukraine

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Isaac Stanley-Becker and Vanessa Guinan-Bank report at Stripes:

Germany’s foreign intelligence service claims to have intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discuss carrying out indiscriminate killings in Ukraine.

In two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians and then proceed to shoot them, according to an intelligence official familiar with the findings who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The findings, first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel and confirmed by three people briefed on the information, further undermine claims by Russia that atrocities are being carried out only after its soldiers leave occupied areas.

Scenes from Bucha, a suburb near the Ukrainian capital, have become a symbol of the war’s atrocities and galvanized calls for probes into possible war crimes. One person said the radio messages are likely to provide greater insight into suspected atrocities in other towns north of Kyiv that had been held by Russian soldiers.

Germany has satellite images that point to Russia’s involvement in the killing of civilians in Bucha, the intelligence official said, but the radio transmissions have not been linked to that location. The foreign intelligence agency, known as the BND, may be able to match signal intelligence with videos and satellite images to make connections to specific killings, two people said.

These people also said the radio traffic suggests that members of the Wagner Group, the private military unit with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies, have played a role in attacks on civilians. Another person briefed on the intelligence said the involvement could have been by the Wagner Group or another private contractor.

German intelligence officials on Wednesday briefed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 1:21 pm

The British Empire Was Much Worse Than You Realize

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The British Empire has a dark history, which Sunil Khilnani discusses in a New Yorker review of Caroline Elkins’s new book Legacy of Violence:

At the height of the British Empire, just after the First World War, an island smaller than Kansas controlled roughly a quarter of the world’s population and landmass. To the architects of this colossus, the largest empire in history, each conquest was a moral achievement. Imperial tutelage, often imparted through the barrel of an Enfield, was delivering benighted peoples from the errors of their ways—child marriage, widow immolation, headhunting. Among the edifiers was a Devonshire-born rector’s son named Henry Hugh Tudor. Hughie, as he was known to Winston Churchill and his other chums, pops up so reliably in colonial outposts with outsized body counts that his story can seem a “Where’s Waldo?” of empire.

He’s Churchill’s garrison-mate in Bangalore in 1895—a time of “messes and barbarism,” the future Prime Minister complained in a note to his mum. As the century turns, Tudor is battling Boers on the veldt; then it’s back to India, and on to occupied Egypt. Following a decorated stint as a smoke-screen artist in the trenches of the First World War, he’s in command of a gendarmerie, nicknamed Tudor’s Toughs, that opens fire in a Dublin stadium in 1920—an assault during a search for I.R.A. assassins which leaves dozens of civilians dead or wounded. Prime Minister David Lloyd George delights in rumors that Tudor’s Toughs were killing two Sinn Féinners for every murdered loyalist. Later, even the military’s chief of staff marvelled at how nonchalantly the men spoke of those killings, tallying them up as though they were runs in a cricket match; Tudor and his “scallywags” were out of control. It didn’t matter: Churchill, soon to be Secretary of State for the Colonies, had Tudor’s back.

Imperial subjects, of course, sometimes found their own solutions to such problems. A hard-line British field marshal, atop the I.R.A. hit list, was gunned down in Belgravia in 1922. Tudor, worried he would be next, made himself scarce. By the following year, he and his Irish paramilitaries were propagating their tactics for suppressing natives in the British-controlled Mandate of Palestine, Churchill having decided that the violence-prone Tudor was just the fellow to train the colonial police. A letter from Tudor to Churchill that I recently came across crystallizes all the insouciance, cynicism, greed, callousness, and errant judgment of empire. He opens by telling Churchill that he’s just commanded his troops to slaughter Adwan Bedouins who had been marching on Amman to protest high taxes levied on them by their notoriously extravagant emir. This tribe was “invariably friendly to Great Britain,” Tudor writes, a touch ruefully. But, he adds, “politics are not my affair.”

Tudor had cheery news to impart, too. Not only could the Mandate be a “wonderful tourist country,” but prospectors had discovered vast sums’ worth of potash in the Dead Sea valley. Should Britain appropriate the resources and increase the policing budget, its difficulties in the region would “smooth out,” he told Churchill, assuring him that Palestinians would be easier to pacify than the Irish: “They are a different people, and it’s unlikely that the Arab if handled firmly will ever do much more than agitate and talk.”

In the twentieth century’s hierarchy of state-sponsored violence, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Hirohito’s Japan typically take top spots. The actions of a few European empires have invited harsh scrutiny, too—Belgium’s conduct in Congo, France’s in Algeria, and Portugal’s in Angola and Mozambique. Britain is rarely seen as among the worst offenders, given a reputation for decency that the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins has spent more than two decades trying to undermine. “Legacy of Violence” (Knopf), her astringent new history of the British Empire, brings detailed context to individual stories like Tudor’s. Visiting archives in a dozen countries over four continents, examining hundreds of oral histories, and drawing on the work of social historians and political theorists, Elkins traces the Empire’s arc across centuries and theatres of crisis. As the sole imperial power that remained a liberal democracy throughout the twentieth century, Britain claimed to be distinct from Europe’s colonial powers in its commitment to bringing rule of law, enlightened principles, and social progress to its colonies. Elkins contends that Britain’s use of systematic violence was no better than that of its rivals. The British were simply more skilled at hiding it.

More than half a century after the British Empire entered its endgame, historians are nowhere near a full assessment of the carnage shrouded by its preacherly cant, and, later, by administrators’ bonfires of documents as they prepared for the last boat out. The richest sense we have of the damage inflicted on colonies tends to come in regional silos. Elkins doggedly links them, moving from South Africa to India, Ireland to Palestine, and on to Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden, revealing a pattern visible only in the long view. As military and police personnel crisscrossed the Empire, spreading techniques of repression far and wide, the higher-ups rarely checked such violence. Instead, over and again, they gave it the full force of law—sustaining more brutality still.

It’s startling to recall that, not so long ago, leading historians accepted the images of empire’s end that were projected in propagandistic newsreels—governors-general in plumed helmets and starched whites inviting grateful natives to the podium. “Next to no fighting,” concluded the Cambridge historian John Gallagher, one of the Old Guard whom Elkins has in her sights. She counters that the practice of blowing Indian sepoys from cannons after the 1857 uprising, the Maxim-gun slaughter of Mahdists in the eighteen-nineties, the use of concentration camps in the Boer wars, the massacre of peaceful protesters in Amritsar, reprisal killings and the sacking of civilian property in Ireland: all this state-inflicted savagery was just the British Empire warming up. In her account, the British paramilitary cadre, many of them trained by Tudor’s Toughs, became the basis of an increasingly violent ruling culture that sought to reassert control in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the Empire needed colonial resources to rebuild a depleted economy and to bulk up a waning geopolitical status.

We misunderstand the end of empire, Elkins says, because the old liberal imperial historiography focussed more on high policy—the stratagems of what Gallagher and his cohort termed the “official mind”—than on the acts of get-it-done enforcers in the field. The striking thing, she suggests, is not how much the denizens of Whitehall didn’t grasp about the retail-level mayhem but, rather, how much they did. Elkins draws on the work of Uday Singh Mehta, Karuna Mantena, and other theorists who argue that British liberalism, for all its talk of universal freedoms, served the goals of empire by rationalizing its domination of other peoples. (Colonial pupils, in their political short pants, required firm instruction before they could be awarded their liberties.) Indeed, the main reason that the British Empire was able to sustain itself for more than two centuries, she maintains, was that the British model of state violence came wrapped in this “velvet glove” of liberal reform.

Add to its longevity an unrivalled global footprint, and the British Empire’s baneful legacy may well have been deeper and more diffuse than that of any other modern state. Was British liberal imperialism, given the extent of the damage it inflicted over generations, a more malevolent influence on world history than even Nazi Fascism? It’s a question that Elkins’s new book implicitly poses. And her first book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Imperial Reckoning” (2005), is a lesson in not discounting her pointed inferences too swiftly.

When the British Trinidadian intellectual C. L. R. James reflected, in old age, on his standard-setting account of the Haitian Revolution against the French, he chided himself for an overreliance on white witnesses. Had he worked a little harder, he believed, he might have unearthed more Haitian perspectives. A vast amount of what is understood today about the experience of colonial subjects still comes through white, Western eyes, often those of ruling administrators, missionaries, and travellers. “Imperial Reckoning” did its part to rectify that great imbalance in the historiography of the British Empire.

It probed one of the grimmest periods in British colonial history: the suppression of a nineteen-fifties uprising of a clandestine Kenyan nationalist movement, the Mau Mau, whose name subsequently became a byword for native barbarity. Elkins, working in British and Kenyan archives as a young scholar, noticed gaps in the record-keeping from this period which suggested that the British had culled the files. Some incriminating documents had survived, though, and she started gathering evidence that the British had detained far more than the eighty thousand Kenyans they had previously acknowledged, and that among the tactics the Empire used against the Mau Mau was outright torture. (“With possibly a few exceptions,” read one report she uncovered, the detainees “are of the type which understands and reacts to violence.”) Thus began what she termed an “odyssey” of research, including field work in rural Kenya—potholed roads, battered Subaru—which ultimately brought to light the harrowing accounts of some three hundred survivors of the campaign against the Mau Mau.

In “Imperial Reckoning,” Elkins moved deftly between oral and archival histories to describe a British strategy of detention, beatings, starvation, torture, forced hard labor, rape, and castration, designed to break the resistance of a people, the Kikuyu, who, having been dispossessed by the British and then, during the Second World War, enlisted to fight for them, had plenty of reason to resist. In 1957, a British colonial governor informed his superiors in London that “violent shock” was the only way to break down hard-core adherents, justifying a brutal campaign called Operation Progress. More than a million men, women, and children were forced into barbed-wire village compounds and concentration camps for reëducation in circumstances that the colony’s attorney general at the time called “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.”

When Elkins’s book won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, some . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the review:

y the late nineteen-thirties, a revolt was under way in Palestine, ignited by radical populist movements that had sprung up in the towns and cities. Dispossessed rural Arabs flocked to these urban areas as Zionist colonies rapidly expanded to accommodate Jewish refugees from Europe. To quash the uprising, the policing apparatus that Hughie Tudor had helped build grew to twenty-five thousand men, including two Army divisions. (Tudor himself, fearful of continued I.R.A. death threats, had decided on a quieter life as a fish trader in Newfoundland.) Elkins, building on recent work by Laleh Khalili, Georgina Sinclair, and other historians, shows how imperial tactics converged in that fighting force.

From Ireland had come paramilitary techniques and the use of armored cars; from Mesopotamia, expertise in aerial bombing and the strafing of villages; from South Africa, the use of Dobermans for tracking and attacking suspects; from India, interrogation methods and the systematic use of solitary confinement; and, from the Raj’s North-West Frontier, the use of human shields to clear land mines. As one soldier recalled about the deployment of Arab prisoners, “If there was any land mines it was them that hit them. Rather a dirty trick, but we enjoyed it.” Other practices seem to have been homegrown by the British in Palestine: night raids on suspect communities, oil-soaked sand stuffed down native throats, open-air cages for holding villagers, mass demolitions of houses. While perfecting such tactics on the Palestinians, Elkins suggests, officers were gaining skills that were put to use when they were later dispatched to Aden (in the south of present-day Yemen), to the Gold Coast, to Northern Rhodesia, to Kenya, and to Cyprus. Palestine was, in short, the Empire’s leading atelier of coercive repression.

]

To legitimate the control machine in Palestine, the British raked their empire again, this time for ways of securing legal impunity. Emergency codes were imported from Ireland, to permit collective reprisals, detention, and the destruction of property, and from India, to authorize censorship and deportation. Although military officials sought martial law in the Mandate, the Attorney and Solicitor Generals in London denied the request. They worried about the precedent of the Crown ceding power to the military, and, besides, Palestinian courts might well object that no state of war existed. A more elegant solution was to augment the power of the civilian executive. A 1937 order conferred on him the right to make whatever regulations “appear to him in his unfettered discretion to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defense of Palestine, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.” British troops and police were thus free to operate “virtually without restraint or fear of prosecution,” Elkins writes. Just as with the repertoire of torture and suppression, these guides to imperial impunity would become models for future campaigns.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 5:49 pm

‘Traitors Get Shot’: Son Testifies Against Father in Jan. 6 Trial

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Alan Feuer has an interesting report in the NY Times. (Gift link; no paywall) The report begins:

When an oil-field worker named Guy Wesley Reffitt returned to Texas after taking part in the attack on the Capitol last year, his welcome home was not entirely warm.

He bragged to his family about confronting the police outside the building and promised that the violence there was only “the beginning,” according to federal prosecutors. His 18-year-old son pushed back, accusing him of having broken the law.

A few days later, Mr. Reffitt realized his son might be right and that the F.B.I. might in fact be on to him. In a burst of anger, he threatened his son and daughter, telling them that they would face his wrath if they sold him out to the authorities.

On Thursday, the son, Jackson Reffitt, faced his father from the witness stand in Federal District Court in Washington, testifying against him in a remarkable tableau that captured the painful rupture in one family — and in some ways the nation — caused by the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

“He said, ‘If you turn me in, you’re a traitor,’” Jackson Reffitt told the jury as his father watched him intently from across the courtroom and then looked down. “‘And traitors get shot.’”

The older Mr. Reffitt, 41, is the first defendant out of more than 700 to go on trial in connection with the Capitol attack, and in the past two days the prosecution has documented how he drove to Washington with a fellow member of a Texas militia and, armed with a pistol, led a pro-Trump mob in an advance on the police outside the building.

But with the appearance of his son on the witness stand, the trial took an unusually personal — and emotional — turn.

Testifying for more than three hours, Jackson Reffitt, now 19, told the jury how his father had become more distant and severe in his beliefs in 2016, the same year Donald J. Trump was elected president. Father and son, he said, did not see eye-to-eye on politics.

“I was moderately left and my father was moderately right,” the younger Mr. Reffitt said, adding that during that election year, “we both went further in our own direction.”

Jackson Reffitt also said his father was a member of the Texas Three Percenters, a state militia group closely linked to the gun rights movement. Guy Reffitt flew a flag outside the family’s home in Wylie, Texas, emblazoned with a Three Percenters’ logo. His son told the jury that he often went about his business with a .40-caliber pistol on his hip.

Things became more tense between the father and son in December 2020, Jackson Reffitt said, as Mr. Trump was undertaking multiple, overlapping schemes to reverse his election defeat. Much of the conflict played out on a family group chat, several messages of which were shown to the jury Thursday.

“Congress has made fatal mistakes this time,” Guy Reffitt wrote on Dec. 21 that year. “This isn’t about Trump, it’s much much bigger. It’s about OUR country.” . . .

Continue reading. (Gift link; no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2022 at 4:01 pm

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from “The Origins of Totalitarianism”

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“No one has the right to obey.”

Josh Jones writes at Open Culture:

At least when I was in grade school, we learned the very basics of how the Third Reich came to power in the early 1930s. Paramilitary gangs terrorizing the opposition, the incompetence and opportunism of German conservatives, the Reichstag Fire. And we learned about the critical importance of propaganda, the deliberate misinforming of the public in order to sway opinions en masse and achieve popular support (or at least the appearance of it). While Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels purged Jewish and leftist artists and writers, he built a massive media infrastructure that played, writes PBS, “probably the most important role in creating an atmosphere in Germany that made it possible for the Nazis to commit terrible atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, and other minorities.”

How did the minority party of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the German people so thoroughly that they would allow and participate in mass murder? Post-war scholars of totalitarianism like Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt asked that question over and over, for several decades afterward. Their earliest studies on the subject looked at two sides of the equation. Adorno contributed to a massive volume of social psychology called The Authoritarian Personality, which studied individuals predisposed to the appeals of totalitarianism. He invented what he called the F-Scale (“F” for “fascism”), one of several measures he used to theorize the Authoritarian Personality Type.

Arendt, on the other hand, looked closely at the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and their functionaries, at the ideology of scientific racism, and at the mechanism of propaganda in fostering “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member… is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders.” So she wrote in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, going on to elaborate that this “mixture of gullibility and cynicism… is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements”:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Why the constant, often blatant lying? For one thing,

it functioned as a means of fully dominating subordinates, who would have to cast aside all their integrity to repeat outrageous falsehoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and complicity. “The great analysts of truth and language in politics”—writes McGill University political philosophy professor Jacob T. Levy—including “George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is…. Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”

Arendt and others recognized, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless.” She also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to as “gaslighting”:

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.

The epistemological ground thus pulled out from under them, most would depend on . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2022 at 11:02 am

Do we really know what war is anymore?

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Gil Bennett reviews The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide To The New Way of War, by Mark Galeotti:

Mark Galeotti, expert on Russia and transnational crime, has an enviable facility with formulating and exploring big ideas in a way that is concise, yet powerful and provocative. His book Russian Political Warfare: Moving beyond the Hybrid (2019) was a model in that respect, debunking a lot of loose thinking about the manipulation of information and its relation to more ‘traditional’ means of offensive action. In The Weaponisation of Everything he broadens his argument, suggesting that non-military conflict, whether in the realm of politics, business, law, culture, influence, technology or organised crime, may be becoming ‘the new normal’. In fact, it may be so normal that we do not even realise we are engaged in conflict at all, accepting a certain level of chaos and instability as no more than business as usual. The structure of the book is clear and well-ordered, with useful examples. Though it was written before the current acute phase of the Ukraine crisis, much of its argument and analysis is currently being illustrated right in front of us.

In a series of snappily-titled sections (‘Gig Geopolitics’, ‘Buying Friends and Influencing People,’ ‘The Gangster-Spook Nexus’), Galeotti illustrates how every aspect of life, whether at governmental or citizen level, can be ‘weaponised’ by being used by one group against another, whether adversaries or allies, in order to secure strategic objectives or to destabilise competitors. In Part III, ‘War is All Around Us,’ he gives a sobering analysis of how withholding human necessities such as water, medicine and food can be used to bring enemies to their knees or discredit a rival regime. Innocent people, as he says, become both victims and weapons of war, through ethnic cleansing, displacement, starvation or, as the Covid pandemic has shown, through health. Overall, it is rather a grim picture, and although Part IV, ‘Welcome to the Future’ argues that global society may benefit from the very elements that may provoke conflict (cross-border supply chains; instant communications), and that instability should be embraced as a dynamic and positive force, the prescription for ‘Learning to love the Permanent, Bloodless War’ is not an encouraging one.

Of course, weaponisation of non-military elements has a very long history, as Galeotti acknowledges, and indeed offers interesting examples (Machiavelli, as one might imagine, was particularly good on this kind of thing). There is nothing new about disinformation, economic sanctions, culture wars, or soft power except the terminology. And although it may not feel like it, we are actually living in a more peaceful world than ever before. But that does not rule out a high level of instability and vulnerability, in a world so irrevocably interconnected that, as in chaos theory, small changes in a remote location may have a catastrophic effect thousands of miles away. The situation is made worse by what Galeotti calls a ‘deep legitimacy crisis.’ Aided by technology, people can insulate themselves from views different to their own, entrenching conspiracy theories as well as a widespread belief in the unreliability, if not outright venality of those in authority. This makes it very difficult for governments to build or restore the trust that would enable them to provide the security and order that, as Rupert Smith argued in The Utility of Force (2005), everyone seeks, whatever the nature of the regime.

Two significant underlying ideas emerge from The Weaponisation of Everything. The first relates to the meaning of war itself. Not definition: there are any number of books on that, though for my money Rosa Brooks, in her excellent How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything (2016) put her finger on it when she said that ‘for all practical purposes, war is whatever powerful states say it is.’ Rather, it is what war means to most people (except of course those poor souls in parts of the world where conflict dominates life). But a large and increasing number of people, particularly in the developed world, have no experience or memory, and very little understanding of what it means to be ‘at war.’ There has been no  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 February 2022 at 8:14 pm

Past efforts to destabilize governments

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Davd Troy’s new Situation Report (Part 1) begins:

Sunlight Kills Active Measures

Keep On Trucking

Continue reading. Things seem to be heating up.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2022 at 12:01 pm

The Police Will Never Change In America. My experience in police academy.

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Using a temporary username, a person posted the following on Reddit:

Throwaway for obvious reasons. If you feel If i’m just bitter due to my dismissal please call me out on it as I need a wake up call.

Over the fall semester I was a police recruit at a Community Colleges Police Academy in a midwestern liberal city. I have always wanted to be a police officer, and I felt like I could help kickstart a change of new wave cops. I am passionate about community oriented policing, making connections with the youth in policing, and changing lives on a individual level. I knew police academy would be mentally and physically challenging, but boy oh boy does policing need to change.

Instructors taught us to view citizens as enemy combatants, and told us we needed a warrior mindset and that we were going into battle everyday. It felt like i was joining a cult. Instructors told us supporting our fellow police officers were more important than serving citizens. Instructors told us that we were joining a big bad gang of police officers and that protecting the thin blue line was sacred. Instructors told us George Floyd wasn’t a problem and was just one bad officer. I tried to push back on some of these ideas and posed to an instructor that 4 other officers watched Chauvin pin Floyd to the ground and did nothing, and perhaps they did nothing because they were trained in academy to never speak against a senior officer. I was told to “shut my fucking face, and that i had no idea what i was talking about.”

Sadly, Instructors on several occasions, and most shockingly in the first week asked every person who supported Black Lives Matter to raise their hands. I and about a third of the class did. They told us that we should seriously consider not being police officers if we supported anti-cop organizations. They told us BLM was a terrible organization and to get out if we supported them. Instructors repeatedly made anti-LGBT comments and transphobic comments.

Admittedly I was the most progressive and put a target on my back for challenging instructor viewpoints. This got me disciplined, yelled at, and made me not want to be a cop. We had very little training on de-escalation and community policing. We had no diversity or ethics training.

Despite all this I made it to the final day. I thought if I could just get through this I could get hired and make a difference in the community as a cop and not be subject to academy paramilitary crap. The police academy dismissed me on the final day because I failed a PT test that I had passed multiple times easily in the academy leading up to this day. I asked why I failed and they said my push up form was bad and they were being more strict now it was the final. I responded saying if you counted my pushups in the entrance and midterm tests than they should count now. I was dismissed on the final day of police academy and have to take a whole academy over again. I have no plan to retake the whole academy and I feel like quality police officers are dismissed because they don’t fit the instructors’ cookie-cutter image of a warrior police officer and the instructors can get rid of them with saying their form doesn’t count on a subjective sit up or push up tests. I was beyond tears and bitterly disappointed. Maybe policing is just that fucked in America.

The warrior-mindset (vs. the guardian-mindset) training is indeed prevalent, and specifically viewing every citizen as a potential hostile threat — see, for example, this article. And it is common for those who have power in a particular organizational culture will use that power to resist changes to the culture (which, they fear, will mean a reduction in their own power).

The comments to the post are worth reading — and see also this Harvard Law Review article on the problem of the warrior mindset and this article that advocates in favor of a warrior mindset.

BTW, I believe a warrior mindset is totally appropriate in soldiers in a shooting war, and totally inappropriate in an organization that is supposed to be a guardian of the public’s safety and Constitutional rights — and even the accused have rights, something many police disapprove of (because the public is the Enemy).

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

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